Cannes should not be an outpost of Hollywood

The Cannes Film Festival used to be famous for two things. Starlets and European films. Times, sensibilities and the politics of sex have changed. Nowadays starlets have been replaced by models, and those still in the movie business are called actresses, or even actors, even if their appearance in films is largely determined by their looks rather than acting ability.

There is a kind of unisex justice in this, in that many male actors have an appeal independent of the range of their thespian skills. (It would be invidious to name names, but Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Hugh Grant come to mind.) All the same, it was good to see Uma Thurman doing her bit for tradition with a dress that looked rather like something that came off the machine just as it ran out of material. And gushing - that was another important part of being a starlet. "I love France and I love this festival. It celebrates film and utterly indulges the highest levels of glamour." Ms Thurman can certainly gush.

Nowadays, too, Cannes is not so much European as a European outpost of the global Hollywood empire. It is, after all, the International Cannes Film Festival, which means that it looks just like the Oscars, but with a top-gloss of what Americans may imagine is European sophistication - that is to say, subtitles.

This year, the festival has made an effort to return to its roots as a showcase of European talent, with mixed success.

Ms Thurman is not very European (except in the wider, genealogical sense), but she is in Vatel, directed by Roland Joffe. And in The Golden Bowl. Henry James was quite a European sort of American novelist (all manners, costume and autumn leaves), and Merchant Ivory is certainly a British company, albeit one that specialises in using American money to turn out a souvenir-shop version of Britishness for the US market. Its version of The Golden Bowl is technically European in nationality, although it sounds like a typical example of the Hollywood homogenised product with a mid-Atlantic accent.

One and a half cheers, then, for Cannes for cutting down the Hollywood offerings in favour of European and Asian films. Contenders for the Palme d'Or this year include films directed by an Iranian and an Israeli. The question is whether European or other un-American film-makers can respond to the challenge. British attempts to use lottery funding to revive our film industry have so far been disappointing. But if Cannes can continue to put the emphasis outside the Hollywood mainstream, perhaps the powerful allure of its glamour can do the trick.

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